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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Long-serving TV detective turns in badge after 20 years

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On Wednesday night's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Det. John Munch, played by Richard Belzer, retired. And in a fitting sendoff, the fictional cops of New York's 16th Precinct threw him a roast.

Belzer's time playing the perpetually sunglasses-wearing detective is unique in broadcast television, in that he's played the same character on 10 TV shows across five channels and 20 years.

While Belzer's run ties with Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane and James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for longest portrayal of a single character on TV, the breadth of Belzer's appearances sets him in a league of his own.

Belzer was known primarily as a standup comedian when he was cast as a detective in the highly acclaimed NBC police drama Homicide: Life on the Street. The show debuted in 1993 and aired for seven seasons.

He joined the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 1999 after Homicide ended and has played Munch there for 15 seasons, rising from senior detective to sergeant and finally on to DA special investigator in his final episode.

But in addition to being a regular on those series, he's also made guest appearances as Munch on 30 Rock, The Wire, Law & Order: Trial By Jury, The Beat, The X-Files, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Arrested Development and, one of Belzer's favourites, Sesame Street. In a farewell essay he wrote for the Huffington Post, Belzer took special note of the sunglasses-wearing John Munch puppet that Sesame Workshop built for the occasion.

While Belzer is indeed leaving the show, a spokesman for NBC indicated that the door was open for the Munch character to work with the SVU squad in the future.

To commemorate Munch's retirement, NBC has released the extended version of the Munch roast. Fans of the character's long history should keep a special eye out for a cameo from Clark Johnson, who played Munch's Baltimore colleague, Meldrick Lewis, on Homicide.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 G10

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